Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Hello Baltimore!

On a family vacation this week, we first stopped at Hershey, PA after a long day of driving. Then the following day was extremely wet, but we continued to Baltimore. It was too early to check in to the hostel. We braved the steady rain to eat lunch, then dashed into a nearby Barnes & Noble.

Stores in a renovated power plant.
You may ask why we travel all this way, only to step inside a store we could've enjoyed in our hometown? But therein lies the solution to a cramped car and squabbling siblings: familiarity. For an adult it's kind of like stopping at Dunkin Donuts for coffee while en route anywhere. What we didn't expect, was the bookstore's unique interior.

Just inside there is this view down a long corridor. The four circular shafts look like smoke stacks.

Indeed, they are! The outsides are covered in metal.

And elevators run up between them. My eldest son was captivated by the inner workings of the elevator, the gears and whatnot on display behind glass. Of course, there are the normal book shelves off to the side. It turns out that this store and many others reside in a renovated power plant on Baltimore's inner harbor. When we return home, I'm tempted to show these photos to Burlington's city officials as there is an abandoned electric department building on the shoreline.

Later we hunkered down in the hostel, watching the rain pelt the sidewalk. My husband and I have enjoyed hostel living and thought it would be an interesting experience for our boys. They enjoyed the free WIFI, a huge flat screen TV, and comfortable couches. I scored a free travel guide from the bookshelf that will help with planning the late summer adventure.

By now you're  probably wondering where cycling comes into all this...just wait.

Monday morning dawned with clouds (I get up early) and the promise of only showers for the day. On foot, we head down Charles Street.

We gawk like typical tourists. I like this FedEx store in a Bavarian style building squeezed among the towering stone and brick structures. The boys delighted in the steam escaping from manholes, even from one traffic light pole! It makes you wonder about Baltimore's underworld. In general, downtown reminds me of Boston with it's harbor and mix of historical and new buildings.

A quick visit to the visitor's center provided bike maps and this photo op. This type of bike rack is all over the city in various bright colors. Of course my attention was drawn to all the commuter cyclists, but the primary reason we went to Baltimore was to explore the science center and various other waterfront attractions.

After many hours we eventually walked back to the hostel. Then I scrambled to get my bike ready. By now I badly needed some time to myself. Armed with a bike map of Gwynn's Falls Trail I set out, but first had to navigate a couple miles of city streets. As with any city there are the unpleasant areas. In a light shower I covered a poor section with burned out and boarded up buildings. One painted sign read something to the effect of  "Help us. No more killing." I kept moving.

I eventually intersected the trail. And rode on a gorgeous paved portion along a river. The sound of water drowned the city noise.

Ah, finally a smile.

I was struck by how green the foliage is along the corridor. Buds adorn Vermont trees while here in Baltimore all the trees are leafed out. I spied and smelled fragrant locusts.

Wonderful historical signs highlighted the entire route. In the early 1900s the Olmstead brothers suggested that Baltimore preserve river land. Frank Law Olmstead planned Central Park in NYC and Mount Royal in Montreal—both of which I'm familiar with—so the name was a delightful find.

Cool trail markers.

Part of the trail is smooth dirt. I plugged through a couple wet areas, to be expected after yesterday's deluge.

I turned around after about four miles and headed back, but continuing on past where I first entered the trail.

There was a series of bridges, a bit slippery, but I took my time. The odd thing about following a creek in this section was there was debris hung up in the trees. Signage indicated flood hazards. I presume this area has flash floods, raising the river level.

Oddly, for two hours, I was the only cyclist.

I followed the signs toward downtown as it would bring me closer to the hostel. I didn't want to repeat the ride through the rough neighborhood. So, I went by Camden Yards, the gaslight plant, under an interstate, through tiny parks, by beautiful brick row houses. The true testament to a bike path's usability is whether someone new to the area can navigate by signs. The Gwynn's Falls Trail is pure delight.

I rode the last mile straight up Light Street. Glad I brought the bike.


  1. Perfectly balanced trip...walking and biking, city and outdoors. I need to remember to include bike escapes into my vacations.

  2. Hi- Looks like a great trip. What a great re-use of space with the power plant. I find Olmsted's creativity and vision more and more. His work is evident here in Portland too. It seems like cool cities have some sort of greenbelt and path system.

  3. I'm glad you brought your bike too! Looks like a lovely path.

    Have a good trip home.

  4. Sounds like you had an uberly awesome trip,my friend! I'd never thought about Baltimore as someplace I might want to visit again (as in,a vacation spot,not a delivery spot from my truck driving days ;) :p),but now I do :)

    The DC

  5. Lovely to fit a bike ride into a visit. I'm always rather excited when I visit a new city - I feel a bit like an explorer! The outside of the Barnes & Noble store looks like it's straight out of Gotham City :-)

  6. I love seeing old industrial buildings converted for modern use, they are so interesting and can have such character. It's a pity the buke track is not better used though.


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